Cognitive Processes in Learning: Types, Definition & Examples

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  • 0:05 What Is Cognition?
  • 1:05 The Different…
  • 3:54 Cognitive Learning Theories
  • 6:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Andrew Diamond

Andrew has worked as an instructional designer and adjunct instructor. He has a doctorate in higher education and a master's degree in educational psychology.

Explore the cognitive processes your brain is going through right now to learn information. We'll define key terms and discuss the two leading theories.

What Is Cognition?

We've all seen a classroom of students sitting and watching their teacher impart upon them the ancient wisdom of their elders (or teaching them state capitals; both are important). Did you ever wonder what was going on inside their heads? Just how does the information they are taking in become actual knowledge? Well, wonder no more, because today we're going to walk through the process of how we learn through cognition.

The first thing we need to do is define two key words: cognition and learning. Cognition is the process of acquiring and understanding knowledge through our thoughts, experiences, and senses. Learning involves acquiring knowledge through experience, study, or being taught. If you think that these two concepts are awfully similar, you're right. Both are inexorably linked - learning requires cognition and cognition involves learning. Whenever you see or hear something new, you go through a series of cognitive processes, which are the processes that result in learning.

The Different Cognitive Processes

The first step in the cognitive learning process is attention. In order to begin learning, a student must be paying attention to what they are experiencing. As anyone who has been in a class full of children knows, attention isn't unlimited and can be quite fleeting. Educational psychologists have come to the conclusion that the average person can hold approximately two or three learned tasks in their attention at the same time. This means that if you are trying to dust and vacuum simultaneously you may be able to pull it off, but throw in eating a sandwich and odds are good you'll take a bite out of your duster and smear lunch meat on the walls.

We also know the average person can only attend to one complex task at a time. Trying to drive and do long division? Not going to happen. Talk on the phone while waltzing? Unlikely. In case you're wondering, this is also a compelling reason to not talk on the phone and drive - you just don't have enough attention to do each task completely.

Next, the information that you are paying attention to has to be put into memory in a process called storage. There are three levels of memory through which information must travel to be truly learned. Let's say that for the first time you hear that the capital of the state of Oregon is Salem. This information is now in your sensory register, which holds everything you are exposed to for just a second or two. By the end of this sentence, you may have already forgotten the capital of Oregon.

If you pay attention and reread the sentence, however, that information will move from the sensory register into short-term memory. This area of your memory will hold information anywhere from 20 seconds up to a minute. If you rehearse the information, such as repeating it to yourself, taking notes or studying it, it has the chance to move to your long-term memory. This area will hold information indefinitely and has an unlimited capacity. The challenge, as we shall see, can be in finding things in there.

Now that you've paid attention and moved the information into memory, it's important that your brain organize this information so it can be retrieved later. Encoding can work through a number of processes, such as developing verbal mnemonics or the delightfully named method of loci, but the ultimate goal is to assign a specific meaning to something you have learned. The mnemonic for remembering the planet's order comes to mind: 'My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos.' Remember this and you can quickly recall the names and order of all the planets. Retrieval goes hand-in-hand with encoding by simply reversing the process of encoding. If you want to remember which planet is fourth from the sun, just run through your mnemonic and you have your answer. Since the fourth word is mother, the fourth planet is Mars!

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